Learn 4 guitar chords from Joni Mitchell songs

Joni Mitchell
(Image credit: Jack Robinson/Getty Images)

Joni Mitchell is an artist who has always spoken her mind. Armed with her acoustic guitar she has given us countless hits that dig deep into various social and political issues. Her ability to tell stories has earned her 10 Grammy Awards and induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, as well as a key influence on countless songwriters.

Joni’s style is often sparse, often using her acoustic guitar and voice as the main focus with various other instruments scattered in the background for texture.

She also uses a range of open tunings to achieve new and interesting chord voicings.

In this lesson we’re going to check out a few chords that are mainstays in her guitar style.

D (Open D)

This is a chord type that you can play with all open strings, or simply by barring across a single fret.

This is something Joni uses as a jumping off point in many songs including the song Chelsea Morning.

Being able to play a major chord with a single finger has great advantages when it comes to adding notes and extensions.


(Image credit: Future)

D6sus4 (Open D)

The 6sus4 chord is the perfect accompaniment to the single fret major chord you just learnt. This is also the 'Keith Richards' chord'.

Also featured in the song Both Sides Now, you’ll see Joni alternating between the open strings of the D Major and the 6sus4 chord. Pairing these together creates a melodic sound inside of a strumming pattern.

This can also be used with a single finger barring the 'open strings' would take the form of a standard tuned 7th chord.


(Image credit: Future)

A6 (Open E)

In the song Big Yellow Taxi, Joni uses this A6 chord. This is in open E tuning (E B E G# B E), but this is the same interval distance as open D, it’s just a tone higher. This will also work in open D tuning.

This is achieved by barring across all six strings on the 5th fret (Giving you an A Major) and then playing the 7th fret on the A (now tuned to B) string, which is the 6th of the key.

You’ll notice that this chord and the A major are used together in the song in the same way you used the D6sus4.


(Image credit: Future)

Gadd9 (Open D)

In the song Cactus Tree, Joni plays a Gadd9 chord which is also along the same theme as playing major chords with a single finger and adding an extension.

In this case, the Gmaj is formed by barring across the 5th fret of all six strings, and the add9 is the 7th fret of the high D string.

You could also take this idea and try adding different chord intervals for different flavours. 


(Image credit: Future)
Leigh Fuge

Leigh Fuge is a guitar player and content creator with a love for all things '80s. When he’s not creating gear demos for his Youtube channel he’s teaching students via his online guitar course Right Notes Music Tuition. Off camera he spends most of his time travelling around the UK performing at functions and corporate events.  www.instagram.com/leighfugeguitar